In part two of Church Anew’s series on policing and the church, we interview a police officer serving a community near Minneapolis on the intersections of his job, faith, and current events. Read part one of our series here.
Why did you become a police officer?
Growing up in the late ‘60s and ‘70s in a mid-size community, I was a part of a family that had a strong sense of service. My father was a college professor and a veteran of the Korean War. My grandfathers both served in WWI. They all were committed to making their country better and helping others through involvement in the community. This had a tremendous impact on my life and choices. Also when I was a young person, I loved watching TV shows on policing, such as Adam 12 and Columbo. I liked the activity and action of policing, helping others and holding people accountable. Even as a child, I had a strong sense of right and wrong.
How does your faith influence your work as a police officer?
My grandfather was a minister as was his father and his father before him. I grew up in the church and have been an active member my entire life. In policing, I try to apply what I have learned from my faith over the years, for example how I interact with people, the decisions I have to make, how I carry myself, how I want others to see me and how hard I work. My faith is an important part of my life.
Christians often talk about vocations as callings from God. Do you see your work as a calling from God? How so?
Yes, as I think about it, I do see my work as a calling. I have been blessed with a strong family that had a moral compass and was involved in community service. Many of the gifts God has given me that led to policing came through what I learned in my family: my heart for and desire to help others, my courage, the healthy body I have which is important in law enforcement. Everything that is a part of “my wheelhouse,” all these things that work together and fit for me in serving as a police officer are gifts from God. Over the years, I have fine-tuned these gifts and built upon them. I appreciate what I have been given and want to use these gifts for better. I do not want to squander them.
One of the things police sometimes say is they see people on their worst or hardest days. How do you live out your calling in serving the community and helping others during these difficult moments?
I came into law enforcement at age 22. Looking back, I think I had some strengths and a desire to help others and do the best I could. But honestly at 22, I didn’t have a lot of life experience. I have learned a lot over time with the experiences I’ve had in policing. This has caused me to do some honest introspection about what I am good at and not good at. I’ve become better at listening, understanding, being patient, bringing wisdom to difficult situations, and showing self-control.
Many police departments across the country have condemned the killing of Mr. George Floyd, both in public statements and personal conversations. How has the death of George Floyd impacted your daily work and life as a police officer since May?
Initially, our immediate focus as police officers was supporting our community in a time of unrest. We adjusted our schedules and put more officers on the street to be proactive in serving and protecting those who depend upon us. After the first few days when things calmed down, there were more peaceful protests and gatherings addressing what happened to George Floyd.
The initial turn of events made it hard for officers, both seeing the death of George Floyd and the grief of his family but also what happened to long-time businesses being burned down in Minneapolis, for instance, and the struggles these businesses’ owners were facing.
Since May, there has been a lot of discussions between officers and the citizens of our city. We have engaged in conversations about what happened to George Floyd. There has been pushback from some in our community about police brutality. There also has been support from our citizens. Some brought in food for us and said, “We are with you.”
As a police department, we’ve spent time discussing the future. The death of George Floyd has been very significant. We ask ourselves, “What does this mean for us?” There already have been some changes in laws regarding police training and our licensing. We are licensed based on many factors, one being how many hours of training we receive. The number of training hours have increased, such as in crisis intervention and autism training. The use of a chokehold has been limited, but our department did not use this tactic before. We have never done that.
After what happened in Minneapolis this spring, some people look at all of us differently and skeptically. While we are human and make mistakes, it is not possible for us to be accountable for the actions of every police officer, just like in any other profession.
There is an ongoing concern in the general public about what some view as a pattern of unfair treatment by police, often based on race. The latest example is a police shooting of a Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin, this week. You have been trained in crisis intervention, de-escalation, use of force, and implicit bias. Would you share a bit about the training you've received around implicit bias and race relations?
Our department requires implicit bias training and many hours have been devoted to it. Our most recent training was led by a facilitator who encouraged us to talk about the issues of bias and race relations in particular in small groups with one another. He gave us the space to bring forward issues of implicit bias in a way we could discuss openly. Those who walked away from that training left with a lot of food for thought and introspection on our own lives and how we bring equity and fairness to our daily work and interactions. Our city also offers training on implicit bias and provides great resources to us. The community we serve represents a rich variety of cultural backgrounds and many different races. Our police department is also very diverse so we learn a lot from each other.
As a police officer and person of faith, how do you live out your commitment to equity, fairness, justice, and inclusion for all people?
I consciously practice what I have learned, been taught, and developed over the years as a police officer committed to equity, fairness, justice, and inclusion. It starts with the oath I took, what I’ve been taught through my faith walk, talking with others, reading a fair amount, listening to others’ views, and always trying to grow. There is a lot to learn. For example, 15 years ago there was a week-long crisis intervention training with an emphasis on working with individuals who are experiencing mental health challenges. I wish that training existed early on across our society, because it was an eye-opener for me. It made me understand the spectrum of mental health and that those who are experiencing difficulties are God’s children and need to be treated with the utmost respect. They are humans who should never be labeled in some way. This training was transformative for me and changed the way I dealt with all people.
What would you like your pastor and community of faith to know about your vocation and how we might work together, perhaps in a new and different way?
Officers in general are truly wanting to help and do what is best for the individual but also the city and society. Many police officers are very talented and caring people in a difficult job with our society asking more and more of us every day. We need prayers especially in these times. I believe prayers make a difference. If someone you are talking with has questions about police brutality, reach out to your local police department to discuss these concerns. As a pastor, when someone in your congregation is struggling with questions about police activity, connect them with a cop to sit down and discuss together. Many people do not know a police officer personally or do not have access to police. Faith communities are a great place to bring together police and citizens to talk over questions and concerns with one another.
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As an ecumenical and inclusive ministry of St. Andrew Lutheran Church, the content of each Church Anew blog represents the voice of the individual writer and does not necessarily reflect the position of Day1, Church Anew or St. Andrew Lutheran Church on any specific topic.